Communication with patients is vital in combating medical misinformation



November 10, 2021

4 minutes to read

Source / Disclosures


Stukus DR. Practical tools to combat disinformation in your practice. Presented at: ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting; from November 4 to 8, 2021; New Orleans (hybrid reunion).

Disclosures: Stukus does not report any relevant financial information.

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Medical misinformation threatens public health, but physicians can combat it by improving communication with their patients, according to a speaker at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting.

“We must take advantage of the very special role that we all play in the lives of our patients”, David R. Stukus, MD, FACAAI, professor of clinical pediatrics in the division of allergy and immunology and director of the Food Allergy Treatment Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said during his presentation.

David R. Stukus

“We are the resource of trust, and we have to accept it,” he said. “Take advantage of long-term relationships. We want to be the resource for our patients. We want to spend time with them. We want to use this trust that we have developed with them to fight against disinformation and have conversations with them. ”

Many patients may have questions and concerns about how their allergies may interact with COVID-19 vaccines, for example. Stukus encouraged doctors to listen to these questions, pay attention to their patients’ body language when asking them, and provide thoughtful answers.

“We have to listen. We have to give them our time, ”he said. “We need to be empathetic, non-judgmental and then available for a follow-up discussion. ”

Impact of 24 hour news cycle, social media

Stukus acknowledged the large volume of disinformation currently circulating. He noted how the 24-hour news cycle has changed the way medical stories are covered, bombarding patients without giving them time to think about and digest this content. The internet, he continued, made these problems worse.

“Social media has fundamentally changed the way humans interact with each other,” he said. “It changes the way people understand what good information is. ”

Unfortunately, that means many patients show up in doctors’ offices with inaccurate ideas about vaccine safety and other issues, he said, and it is up to doctors to present the correct information.

“We have the expertise. We have to take responsibility for that, ”he said.

Stukus urged doctors to spend time entering the most common questions they receive from their patients in different search engines to see what is being reported online in order to prepare their own answers.

“We really need to anticipate these concerns and seek permission to discuss them. You might ask, “Would you be okay if I discussed some common misconceptions I hear about food allergies during today’s visit?” “, did he declare. “Make it a normal part of the meeting.

“We also need to help our patients understand what the evidence is,” he said, adding that just because someone posts a video to something on YouTube doesn’t mean that is true.

Patients can also be alarmed by anecdotes and dramatic examples of negative results.

“Negative stories are circulating like mad, despite the fact that less than 20 children a year have fatal food reactions,” Stukus said. “Whenever one of these tragedies occurs, it circulates like wildfire in the food allergy community. When patients and families read these stories, it generates anxiety, decreases quality of life, and can cause people to take unnecessary restrictions. ”

Of course, social media can also be used as a forum where physicians can reach large audiences looking for information.

“What’s in your wallet?” What are you doing right now to get involved beyond meeting the patients you have? Stukus said.

Cognitive biases, politics

Doctors and patients also need to be aware of cognitive biases, Stukus said.

Stukus regularly asks his patients if they’ve changed anything since being diagnosed with an allergy. Typically, patients report a few adjustments, but one family said they quit eating after watching a food industry documentary that included the story of a man with a nut allergy who died after a restaurant visit. .

“It’s a recency bias. This is the type of impact that these cognitive biases can have on our patients, and we can recognize it, ”he said.

Patients also bring their politics to doctors’ offices, Stukus said, noting how the 2020 Electoral College results map reflects maps of COVID-19 vaccination rates.

“Political affiliations and ideologies have absolutely had an impact on the medical decision-making of our patients. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but we have to be aware of it, ”he said, adding that doctors should incorporate these influences into their conversations with patients.

Stukus suggested that clinicians ask their patients:

  • “Can we separate them somehow? ”
  • “What information can we talk about?
  • “What are your sources of information? ”
  • “Who do you trust? ”

“We cannot reach everyone”

Despite these efforts, physicians must realize that they will not persuade everyone who might be against particular medical treatments to change their mind.

“We also have to be comfortable with the fact that we cannot reach everyone,” he said. “And it’s okay. There’s a group in the middle that wants to hear from us, and it’s a silent majority.

Doctors can also reach audiences beyond their patients, Stukus said. He advised doctors to use their practice websites to provide reliable information to their communities. Additionally, doctors can blog on their own websites or post articles on other popular sites.

Stukus has appeared in informative videos and he encouraged others to do the same.

He also recommended using the Surgeon General’s July 2021 report “Dealing with Health Misinformation”.

“This is a great guide that anyone can access for free. It reviews a lot of evidence as well as practical tools, ”he said. “We want to proactively engage with patients and the public using technology and media platforms. ”

Despite the variety of options, physicians must choose a strategy that fits their niche and works best for them. Whatever the methodology, all of these messages must keep the facts at the center of their concerns.

“Just provide the science. We don’t have to silence him, but we can explain things in a way that makes it easier for people to understand, ”he said.

Treating patients with respect is as essential as the message itself in these efforts.

“Yourself. Be nice. We don’t need to be judgmental. We don’t need to argue. That’s what the other side does. They’re very good at it. We don’t need to argue. to take this path, “he said.” We are caring healthcare professionals, and we can show it. ”


Murthy, VH. Dealing with Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advice on Creating a Healthy Information Environment. Posted July 15, 2021. Accessed November 9, 2021.


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